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Scalia in uncompromising form

Justice Antonin Scalia
BBC Radio 4's Law In Action
Tuesday 12 February 1600 GMT
On Radio 4 and online

Law in Action has a rare, extended interview with Antonin Scalia, the most outspoken and acerbic of Justices on the US Supreme Court.

In a wide-ranging discussion, he defends his often controversial positions on issues like Guantanamo Bay, argues that torture may be legal and attacks the "sick" practice of televising trials.

Justice Scalia is often described as the most conservative member of the court - but it's a charge he denies.

Instead, he says he's an "originalist," which means he interprets the text of the US Constitution as it was written.

He both attacks and mocks the idea that the Constitution is a "living document" which needs reinterpreting in the light of social change.

Judicial views that divide America

I think there's just something sick about making entertainment out of real people's legal troubles.
Justice Scalia in his interview with Law in Action

He has made many decisions in favour of the rights of criminal defendants, and has ruled that burning the US flag is legal, although he adds that if he were king, he would "throw flag burners in jail".

Justice Scalia has ruled against the right to abortion and in favour of the death penalty.

Justice Antonin Scalia
Scalia is the most outspoken Justice on the US Supreme Court

He says there is nothing in the Constitution that grants women the right to an abortion.

The death penalty, he argues, is not covered by the 8th Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment."

He points out that at the time the Constitution was written, execution was the only penalty for felonies, and therefore cannot be excluded by the amendment.

Justice Scalia says that it is far from clear that torture is unconstitutional and says that it may be legal to "smack [a suspect] in the face" if the suspect is concealing information which could endanger the public.

He criticises the politicisation of the process of appointing Supreme Court Justices, but blames this on the court for being too flexible in interpreting the Constitution.

This means that politicians want to appoint a judge who will "write the new constitution that you like."

Law In Action was broadcast on Tuesday 12 February 2008 at 1600 GMT on BBC Radio 4.

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